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Melbourne Vixens Part 2: Emotional Connection As The Future Of Sports Sponsorship

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n part two of a two-part exclusive interview series, Netball Victoria general manager of communications, marketing and partnerships, Kristen Penny, along with Netball Victoria business development manager, Aaron Bosse, spoke to Ministry of Sport about current trends in the sport sponsorship industry.

Bosse said BenchMark surveys by True North Research show a deeper value of rights holders that brands need to start recognising, beyond the “traditional focus” on “eyeballs” and QI media value.

“All eyeballs aren’t created equal, if brands are wanting to create actual behavioural change, that comes from emotional connection, that doesn’t come from just eyeballs and attention,” Bosse told Ministry of Sport.

“Although we’re not going to just sit here and say that we can compete with some of the AFL and NRL clubs just purely on an eyeball metric or QI media metric on the number of people that are tuning in, the thing we really hold ourselves proudly on is the fact its not about the number of eyeballs, its about the number that are engaged.

“Not just with your sport and your players, but the partners that continue to support your sport as well.

“We’ve had some really strong results, the results from the last BenchMark survey through True North show we are in the top 10 for so many metrics, whether it’s from usage of our partner brands or general positive sentiment towards our partners.

“At least from my perspective and the conversations I have with brands, these are the areas that are becoming more and more important to brands.

“No one signs up for a partnership and gets excited about ticking off six EDM tiles that go out or 15 LED signs, that’s not the objective, that’s a vehicle to get to the objectives.

“At the end of the day, they want more widgets being sold and that comes from behaviours and people actually engaging with those brands.

“That’s something we are really proud of that we do really well, and the results have shown that.

“Of over 150 sponsorship programs that were evaluated around the country, we’re not just competing against women’s sport here, the Melbourne Vixens had two of the top six results evaluated.

“The calibre of partnerships we’re talking about are incredible like St. George and Illawarra.

“Sometimes I have to stop and pinch myself at some of the amazing results we can create with the business we are and where we’re coming from.

“We still need to educate the wider industry of brands that want to invest in sponsorship and get them to understand its not just about eyeballs, it’s getting the right eyeballs that matter and getting them to really take notice of the research.

“I think there’s going to be a big shift soon and the brands that jump on quicker are going to have these results longer-term and unfortunately, there might just be some brands that miss out because they are too late to the game; that’s really the reality of it,” he said.

Penny said the strength of the commercial portfolio of the Vixens and Super Netball in general, lies in the emotional connection factor.

“The decision makers are our fans,” Penny told Ministry of Sport.

“In most households, the woman is the decision maker and they’re watching the netball.

“The opportunities available within the whole of Suncorp Super Netball, not just the Vixens, it still blows my mind that more brands aren’t coming on.

“The price of coming on is not the same as an AFL or NRL.

“We don’t have the eyeballs they have, but we have the emotional connection, we have that trust, and if I get asked for the Puma contact one more time…

“We’ve got this global brand supporting us, which makes our dress the most valuable in the whole league.

“If we didn’t have Puma, we wouldn’t have this Witness Fearless campaign, we wouldn’t have the backing of what came out of The Age review.

“By having that global brand behind us, it’s really important to understand you’re not going to be forking out what you are with male sport, it’s going to be less, but you’re going to get results,” she said.

Adding on to the focus of emotional connection for the Vixens’ commercial strategy, Bosse said the process is about more than just “one-dimensional figures” like viewership and social reach.

“Emotional connection drives our whole marketing strategy,” Bosse said.

“That’s something that really guides our decision making, not just commercially, but how we speak to fans and members as well.

“We know there’s a big market in terms of people that consume sport in Victoria, and our job is to convert those sports fans into supporters of the Vixens, fans of the Vixens and then either superfans or members of the Vixens.

“In terms of sponsors, we’re really trying to flip the narrative in terms of how we sell sponsorship and not going too hard on some of those generic figures we’ve historically always spoken about.

“Yes, viewership numbers are important, social numbers are important, and they always will be, but if we’re comparing ourselves on those one-dimensional figures, that doesn’t tell the whole story and doesn’t hold us in good stead when you’re trying to compare apples and apples.

“If a brand is looking at an AFL club with 200,000 followers on Instagram compared to our 60,000, based on that number, you know every day of the week where a brand will invest, but if you look at the engagement across those channels, that’s when you can start to draw more conclusions.

“Brands are the boss of their own wallets and own budget, so it’s really about us driving emotional connection and to work with these companies to get their voices out there.

“Once brands understand these metrics and what they mean is when they are going to take them seriously.

“The return on investment is just the final tipping point.

“I don’t like to talk about it much, because I think when people talk investment they think ‘because you don’t ask for as much, maybe your property isn’t worth as much’, but you can get such a stronger return on investment purely based on the results and not having to pay the types of investment figures you see in some of these other marquee sports.

“A lot of this stuff is still such an education for brands and businesses, and that’s our job, to continue to educate and call this stuff out.

“It will be the brands that are quick to move and quick to act that will benefit the most.

“We’re going to see quite a number of new brands and new industries that will start to get into this market, there’s a lot more that are now looking at it and taking the next step to look into more depth.

“That’s the trend I’m seeing; it’s whether that will result in any actual change in decision making,” he said.

Discussing the club’s commercial value and the comparisons between the commercial value of a Super Netball club compared to an AFL or NRL club, Bosse said: “I don’t want it to come across as comparing ourselves negatively to other codes and clubs.”

“We don’t want pity and the athletes don’t want pity for the disparity in wages or some of these other things around male and female codes.

“These athletes are grateful to be playing a sport they love.

“They want you to see the fight, the passion and the performance they put out, it’s time to back them.

“We’re really trying to make sure we’re the vehicle to make that happen and help that along.

“We don’t want to just look at how we can be the best netball club; we’re a high-performing club on-and-off-court, we want to look across our state and nation-wide.

“We’re a Victorian property with national reach and national ambassadors that play for the Diamonds.

“We can no longer compare ourselves to just netball, we need to be looking at best practice across other codes and other rightsholders across all major events to continue to show we are a property not behind the times and deserve for brands to look at the Melbourne Vixens in the same light as all other properties.

“If you’re looking too granular on small things, you can’t look wider on how we can take the sport to a whole new level,” he told Ministry of Sport.

To read part one of the interview with Bosse and Penny from the Melbourne Vixens on how the Vixens managed to win the 2020 Super Netball championship without the support of a Premier Partner, click here.